LONDON As well as being the capital of England,
London is the capital of the United Kingdom. It is one of the greatest, most
colourful and interesting cities of the world, and it tops the list of the
cities I would like to visit. I know a lot about it - I have studied its map,
seen a lot of postcards, talked to people who have been there. Sometimes I
close my eyes and imagine I walk down Piccadilly, Regent or Oxford Street,
cross the Thames by London or Tower Bridge, or knock on the door of Number 10,
Downing Street, just to say “Hi!” to Tony Blair.
London is a city which was never planned. It has accumulated. So, it
includes the City of London, the West End and the East End. The city is really
large – more than 8 million people live in so-called Greater London – that is,
London and its suburbs. It stands on the both sides of the river Thames and 14
bridges span the river. The Thames, described variously as “liquid history” and
the “noblest river in Europe” is graced in London with a score of bridges,
tunnels and a barrier, but until 1750, when the first Westminster Bridge
opened, London Bridge was the one and the only. The first one built in stone
from 1176 to 1209 became renowned throughout Europe for its houses and a chapel
dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury. Several of London bridges have special
features – Hammersmith Bridge has ornamental metal work and Vauxhall has larger
than life bronze figures representing pottery, engineering, architecture,
agriculture, science, fine arts, local government and education. Among the
boats which ply the river, few attract more attention than the Oxford and
Cambridge University Boat Race.
London was founded by the Romans in 43 A. D. and was called Londinium. In
61 A. D. the town was burned down and when it was rebuilt by the Romans it was
surrounded by a wall. That area within the wall is now called the City of
London. It is a financial and business center of the country. The Stock
Exchange, the Bank of England, offices of major banks and companies are all
there. People only come to the City to work, nobody lives there, and at night
it becomes deserted.
Here is situated the Tower of London. The Tower was built by William the
Conqueror who conquered England in 1066. The Tower of London has been
“fortress, palace, home of the Crown Jewels and national treasures, arsenal,
mint, prison, observatory, zoo and tourist attraction”, wrote the Duke of
Edinburgh in a book celebrating the Tower’s 900th anniversary. It is
interesting to mention the tradition connected with the history of Tower. The
royal menagerie departed to the Zoo in 1834, leaving only the ravens behind.
Tradition says that if the ravens leave, the Tower and the country will fall.
So Beefeaters – Warders of the Tower - give ravens meat every night.
The finest part of London is the West End with long streets of
fine shops, theaters, picture gallery. Soho, the home of strip-tease, the
cinema industry and international haute cuisine, is on the edge of theatreland,
rich in history and rich in cultural mix. The name Soho probably came from the
ancient hunting cry – So – Ho – in its farmland days. By the 19th
century it must have seemed a strange area, described by John Galsworthy in the
Forsyte Saga as “Untidy, full of Greeks, Ishmaelites, cats, Italians, tomatoes,
restaurants, organs, coloured stuffs, queer names, people looking out of out
windows, it dwells remote from the British Body Politic”. Today there is a
complete China Town and Restaurants serve haute cuisine from scores of
There are beautiful parks in the West End, such as St James’s Park, Green
Park, Kensington Gardens, and Hyde Park with its Speaker’s Corner there you
can go up on a platform and speak freely on the topic that you find vital. The
Royal Parks are central London‘s lungs. Bands play beside lakes, parks have
cafes and art galleries.
The Houses of Parliament with its Big Ben, the chimes of which are heard
throughout the world on the BBC World Service are also in the West End. Big
Ben, the voice of London, has been telling the time to the second since 1859.
Construction of the 320 foot clock tower began in the year Queen Victoria came
to the throne, 1837, as part of the reconstruction of the Houses of Parliament.
The Great Bell cracked, was recast and cracked again, given us the famous
resonating boom. Why Big Ben? There are two answers – either can be chosen. It
could have been named after Sir Benjamin Hall, chief commissioner of works at
that time. Or, perhaps, it was named by workmen – Benjamin Caunt – who brought
the bell from Whitechapel Foundry on a cart pulled by 16 white horses. The
Palace of Westminster – among the world’s most famous buildings – houses the
British Parliament: the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The first
palace was built for Edward the Confessor, who came to the throne in 1042.
Every British citizen has the traditional right to ask to see his or her
Member of Parliament, and they meet in the highly decorative Central Lobby.
When Parliament is sitting, it is possible to hear debates from the Strangers’
Galleries. Even the Queen is subject to restrictions. For the State Opening of
Parliament she has to sit enthroned in the Lords – a custom which goes back to
the era of Charles I. For relaxation, the Members of Parliament have reception
rooms which lead onto the riverside terrace. In gardens across the road is the
Jewel Tower. Among moderns sculptures to have been placed in the vicinity is
the statue of Sir Winston Churchill, with his larger-than-life size sculpture
raised on a plinth.
White Hall and Downing Street are also in the West End. White Hall is a
street where most government offices are situated, and I have already mentioned
that No. 10, Downing Street is the official residence of the British Prime
Ministers for more than 250 years. The famous cul-de-sac of Downing Street was
created by Sir George Downing, member of Parliament, around 1680. Number 10 is
one of the original Downing Street houses to survive. No 10, with the most
photographed door in the world, is guarded outside by a single policeman. By
the way the nick-name of British policemen are “bobbies”, because of Sir
Robert Peel, who formed the police force.
The Queen, when she is in London, lives in Buckingham Palace. Buckingham
Palace facing the white marble and gilded Queen Victoria memorial, flies the
royal standard when the Queen is in residence. Today the Queen and the Duke of
Edinburgh have private suites in the North Wing, overlooking Green Park. Their
home is open to around 30.000 guests in summer, attending garden parties. The
entry costs around 20 pounds a person. The gardens have a lake, cascading water
and the wild life include flamingoes. From the Palace the Queen leaves on
ceremonial duties such as the State Opening of Parliament in early winter and
Trooping the colour to mark her official birthday in June.
The architecture of London is very impressive. There is St. Paul’s
Cathedral, for example, where a lot of famous people were buried. The National
and Tate Galleries contain many masterpieces of art.
Westminster Abbey has been the setting for every monarch’s coronation,
beginning with Edward the Confessor, a saintly man who came to the throne in
1040. The Abbey presents a pageant of noble, military, political and artistic
history. It has the graves of queens and kings, of poets, politicians and
churchmen. And the High Altar still contains the body of Edward the Confessor,
the Abbey’s founder.
Westminster Cathedral is the leading Roman Catholic Church in England. It
was built half a mile from the Abbey. The single bell in the 280 foot high
campanile is dedicated (like the Chapel in the Abbey) to Edward the Confessor.
This gift from Gwendolen, Duchess of Norfolk, is inscribed “St Edward, pray for
The East End is something quite different. It is the industrial
part of London. There are factories and docks there, and blocks of flats where
working people live. They form quite a contrast to what we can see in the West
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life: for there is in
London all that life can afford” -, wrote Samuel Johnson in 1777. Naturally,
London is a cultural, scientific, and industrial center of the country, and it
means that a lot of interesting things are taking place there all the time.
2. Main part.
2.1. The River.
2.2. The City of London.
2.3. The West End.
2.4. The East End.
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4. London. 161 colour plates – map of the city centre. Thomas Benacci LTD.